This is IT. THE characteristic of God.
The embodiment, the living into, the Great Commandment.
Hesed is a Hebrew term for which we have no equivalent in English. Hesed, is that which God describes to Moses as God’s self which “abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6b, NRSV). Karoline Lewis says that hesed is, “the way in which to believe in God, trust in God—which also means that you act out God’s characteristics… doing what God is.”
Hesed is that deep, abiding, faithful love. God’s Love. In what ways do we see God doing that today? And, as we lean into, live into, and act out God’s characteristics, how do WE “do” hesed?
Ruth, the Mobite, lives into this hesed—as does Naomi, the Israelite. For Ruth the Mobite, “this is the story about an outsider, a despised outsider, a foreigner, who now has to come and take shelter…” in Israel.
In a time and economy that does not favor women, does not favor the immigrant, Katharine Sakenfeld “offers a sobering reminder of the consequences of Ruth’s decision for Naomi as well, ‘For Naomi, Ruth’s presence is a much a reminder of tragedy as it is potential comfort. Naomi has no idea how she herself will be received upon returning to Bethlehem, and now she also has a foreign companion to be explained.’”
Hesed. Deep, abiding, faithful love. The embodiment of the Great Commandment: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength… (and) you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:29b-31, NRSV).
Yikes. The Great Commandment interwoven with our study of gratitude the past 6 weeks intertwine—and I was challenged. I was challenged by the gratitude practice into which Diana Butler Bass asks us to explore today. The previous weeks had been easy:
- Week 1— “Pay attention to what made you feel grateful today.” OK. I can do that. Check.
- Week 2’s Practice— “Pay attention to gifts. What felt like a gift in your life? From where did that gift come?” Got it! Check.
- Week 3— “Give a gift to someone who does not expect it. Something small, thoughtful, and surprising. What did you feel when you gave?” Again, something that I could easily do that felt deeply satisfying…
And so the list goes on. Until this week:
- Week 6— “Watch or read the news today” (Pastor Kris’ response—yikes!) “…pay attention to your emotional responses. Does the news increase negative emotions? Make you angry in debilitating ways?” Check. Check. Check. And then… “Do not deny these feelings, but instead balance them by bringing gratefulness into the picture by reflection on these questions:
- What, in this story, gives reason to be thankful?” (Pastor Kris’ response—hmmmm…)
- “Where might gratitude be located in this (tragedy, policy, political decision, report…?)” (Pastor Kris’ response— wow…) and…
- “How might a shared practice of gratitude unite instead of divide us?”
Wherever love is. As unsettling as the political ads, rhetoric, and news can be during this election cycle and beyond…. THIS is IT. “Social scientists have discovered that positive emotions of gratitude drive out negative emotions like fear and anxiety; that practicing gratitude creates new connections of community… Being a grateful person means being resilient in crisis and strengthens us to resist injustice.”
Hesed. Deep, abiding, faithful love. Acting out God’s characteristics. Doing what God is. The Great Commandment: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength… (and) you shall love your neighbor as yourself”
This is where Love overcomes fear. This is how heaven is revealed on earth. Bass challenges us to consider, “that thanksgiving creates the possibility of common good… That gratitude opens us toward personal and social transformation…”
Transformation. Challenged by the Great Commandment. Challenged by Ruth’s hesed. Namoi’s hesed. God’s Great Hesed. Deep, abiding, faithful love.
This is where the Great Commandment and hesed encounter the vulnerable. Those, as Naomi states are “seeking security.” Those families, like Naomi’s, Orpah’s, and Ruth’s, are making gut wrenching decisions in their desperate need for food, shelter, security. That choice between one, life-threatening, violence filled decision and another: How will I, how will we, how will our children, survive famine? War? Climate change and global warming? The Great Migration? Imprisonment? Gun Violence?
Nomads. The women weep. Tears of separation. Desperation. Determination. Transformation. Courage. Hesed.
It is here that we hear the Great Commandment read in our midst today, as we live into our global reality of the largest mass migration in history… which is in progress… now. From the International Organization for Migration, of the United Nations, we acknowledge that currently there are an estimated “…244 million international migrants globally… Global displacement is at a record high, with the number of internally displaced at over 40 million and the number of refugees more than 22 million.”
It is in this context… that we look for ways to embody Great Commandment… to love God with our full mind, body, and spirit, and our neighbors as ourselves. It is in this time, in this place, that we seek ways to stand in solidarity with our neighbors who are living in fear in hateful rhetoric shouted, and tweeted, and spray painted “out loud.” Silence on our part in the midst of such evil is not an option.
It is here… that the sermon goes off script. Yesterday afternoon I gathered with a sanctuary of ecumenical partners at Plymouth United Church of Christ on Atwood avenue. Plymouth is one of the UCC’s sanctuary congregations in the Madison area. They and Lake Edge UCC collaborated to bring the Rev. Dr. Randy Mayer. Mayer is pastor at Good Shephard UCC the Santa Cruz Valley of Arizona.
Mayer opened his discussion yesterday stating that “It’s nice to be away from the border, which is really low intensity warfare. Border patrol policing in the parking lots (of our city), helicopters constantly overhead.” He talked about the fact that “One out of every 7 people in the world are ‘in transition’… immigration…” and that what we have been experiencing along the U.S./Mexican board has been intensifying for years, from the Document of Discovery to “The evil theology of Manifest Destiny…”
Mayer called the women, children, and men walking north from Central America “freedom walk,” the term that a teenage boy from Central America recently told Mayer was a spiritual revelation for the youth. This young person had witnessed the community that was formed on the walk, the community that was built as all shared food and security. “A freedom walk… (which this boy experienced as) an amazing experience which is being demonized… Right now it’s just cruelty and chaos (at the border)… We don’t understand how to create community and opportunity.”
Our country, our state, our world, is in desperate need of transformation. The transformation that the Great Commandment offers all. The transformation that bursts forth through Ruth’s hesed. Namoi’s hesed. God’s Great Hesed. This deep, abiding, faithful, courageous love that God unconditionally offers to ALL of God’s children.
Last Sunday night, the day after the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, our wider community gathered at a community vigil at the First Unitarian Society in Madison. Reflective, resilient, powerful words and songs of lament and solidarity were shared by people of the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, African American and Latinx communities. Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman of Shaarei Shamayim stated that “The only way forward is to create deep, loving community.”
This is what we are seeking. Building. Deep, loving community. Where tears can flow and grief is shared. Where a great hope for the revelation of heaven on earth can be glimpsed. That space of communal thanksgiving that “creates the possibility of common good… That gratitude (that) opens us toward personal and social transformation…”
I invite you to find ways to respond to God’s hesed this coming week. To vote. To come into community for healing as you need. If you need a space for sanctuary, the sanctuary will be open Wednesday morning 7:30 am – noon. And then on Thursday at 10 am we will be gathering for our final discussion on the book Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks. You are welcome to join us… talk with us… pray with us… even if you have not been a part of the book discussion until now. And then there are our cottage meetings. If you haven’t yet taken part, whether you are a long-time member of the church, or new to the congregation, or a visitor, you are welcome to be a part of the conversation. Our conversation.
Whatever you do, listen. “Hear, O Israel (hear, O Memorial UCC): (that) the Lord our God, the Lord is one…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength… (and) you shall love your neighbor as yourself”
This is IT. Hesed. THE characteristic of God. Our own embodiment, our living into, our embrace of God’s Great Commandment. This is what Jesus calls us to, for the “sake of healing (our) own heart(s) and the healing of the world.”
Reflection on Ruth 1:1-18 and Mark 12:28-34 offered on November 4, 2018.
 Karoline Lewis in “Sermon Brainwave #630 – Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost – Working Preacher.” #630 – Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost – Working Preacher. Accessed November 01, 2018. https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1071.
 Matt Skinner in “Sermon Brainwave #630 – Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost – Working Preacher.” #630 – Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost – Working Preacher. Accessed November 01, 2018. https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=1071.
 Sakenfeld, Katharine, Charles, Gary W. Feasting on the Word: Year B. Edited by David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Vol. 4. Westminster John Knox Press, 2014. 246.
 Bass, Diana Butler. A 7-Day Guide to Gratitude, Day 1. 2018.
 Bass, Diana Butler. A 7-Day Guide to Gratitude, Day 2. 2018.
 Bass, Diana Butler. A 7-Day Guide to Gratitude, Day 3. 2018.
 Bass, Diana Butler. A 7-Day Guide to Gratitude, Day 6. 2018.
 “Chapter 2.” International Organization for Migration. November 30, 2017. Accessed November 02, 2018. http://www.iom.int/wmr/chapter-2.